Fears the BDGP scheme will create a ‘substantially maternal herd’

The Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) needs to be examined for fear that it will create a “substantially maternal herd“, Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry.

Representing the Sligo-Leitrim constituency, Deputy MacSharry raised his concerns as his party tabled a motion in the Dail last night calling for a €200/suckler cow payment to be introduced.

Also Read: Calls for a €200/suckler cow payment tabled in Dail motion

Deputy MacSharry firmly supported the motion and added that – from a personal perspective – he believes there is an argument to consider even more than that and for a higher amount to be given for the first ten cows belonging to the country’s many small farmers.

During his address to the floor, he voiced concerns regarding the BDGP scheme – from his perspective as a “former exporter who exported 35,000 cattle’s worth of processed beef to 46 countries throughout the world”.

I would advise caution on the beef data genomics scheme. Again as a former beef exporter, I feel it needs to be examined for fear that it will create a substantially maternal herd, which would affect confirmation and the quality of beef we are producing.

“I ask the minister to look at that,” he said.

Front-loading payments

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s agriculture spokesperson Martin Kenny repeated calls to front-load payments for smaller suckler farmers.

He argued that these farmers are the root from which the beef sector grows.

“The quality of weanlings produced is excellent and there should be some recognition of this.

“There are one million suckler cows. If €200 was to be paid for 500,000 of them, it would work out as €100 million per year. We know that there is a cost; but – at this stage – if we are serious about protecting the sector, we have to try to find that money.

There is an argument to be made for increasing it even further and front-loading some of the money for smaller farmers who are producing great weanlings.

Deputy Kenny explained that farmers in suckler cow areas, which are mainly along the western seaboard, have an average herd of approximately 18 cows.

He outlined that these farmers are struggling to survive.

“Every year a cow calves and the calf is reared as a weanling. The farmer then goes to the mart and it is pot luck whether he or she will get a decent price.

“Sometimes it works out well and sometimes it does not. Even in the years farmers achieve a good price, they are still the farmers with the lowest incomes in the farming sector.

They have few options beyond pursuing this type of farming on the marginal land they own. As most of them are smallholders, engaging in dairying is not an option.

“The land is not really good enough for them to do so. The viable options involve rearing sheep or suckler cows and engaging in forestry. The reality is that these options are not very good,” he said.

‘The price is not there’

Also contributing to the debate was independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice. He outlined that a floor price needs to be put under the weanling market.

“For the export market and to get cattle to Turkey or wherever, we must have the Benson & Hedges coloured Charolais; because, that is what will make the money.

“One has to get €850 to €1,000 for a weanling or one is going nowhere with the suckler herd. We have to put a floor under the price,” the Roscommon-Galway representative said.

He added that there are question marks over the BDGP scheme.

Continuing, he said: “One looks at the statistics for the current year and has to ask why we have killed 10,000 more cattle, but the tonnage was the same. It is because we are rearing narrow-arsed cattle that will not pull down the scale.

“There is a question mark over some of the beef genomics at the moment because of the star rating. They are looking again at this because some bulls produced four or five calves and some produced 100 calves; but, the ones that produced four or five had the higher star rating.

We need to get realistic and produce the product that is required. Whether we like it or not, the farmer has to have an animal that will pull the scales down or have the shape for export; they are continental cattle.

“If we keep going the way we are going, we will drive the farmer out,” he said.